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Spitting the Recruitment Dummy

By September 26, 2013No Comments

Since entering the recruitment industry over eight years ago I’ve heard more than the fair share of phrases like “spitting the dummy”, “throwing toys from the pram” and “playing in a different sandpit”. And no, this isn’t in relation to childlike behaviour from clients and candidates, but rather they’re metaphors to describe the behaviour of recruitment consultants either in competing firms or within the firm I was actually working for at the time.

Are we in recruitment particularly prone to this immaturity gene? Is it something that characterises someone with the makeup to be a successful recruiter?  Or does the emotionally turbulent work we engage in actually make us that way?

You can cast your eyes to the left of this blog post to see that whilst we at Rice Consulting are passionate about recruitment, we refuse to take ourselves too seriously.  So are we as guilty of this as many other recruiters out there?  I don’t believe so.  When we consult to clients and candidates we do so in a serious and respectful way.  I just think we use our cheeky irreverence as a bit of a release valve to cope with what was very appropriately described to me this week as a “champagne and razor blades” roller-coaster of an industry.

But, for an industry very keen to project an image of serious, thoughtful, intelligent and very mature consultative services, I’ve seen some things behind the scenes that really do make a mockery of this.  I came across an article earlier this week called 10 Signs you are a Grown Up at Work and it makes for a good read, particularly if you draw parallels with what you’ve experienced in the recruitment industry.  Here are the ten signs, and I’ve written underneath each some recollections from my real-life experiences in recruitment:


1. You can have a great working relationship without being friends or having lunch together.

  • Recruitment seems to be one of those industries that encourages the formation of cliques quite unlike any other, and this is true of internal and agency teams.  I once worked in a team where two consultants had lunch together every day for a whole year, and it soon became clear that, for one of them at least, it was the time to bitch and moan about others in the office.  It was truly the highlight of her day.

2. You finally realize it’s not all about you.

  • The practice of “bottom-drawing” in one Sydney office I worked in was rife, with consultants working different verticals in the same sector and refusing to share candidates with each other, waiting for the right role to come up for their candidate so they could get the placement fee.

3. If someone disagrees with you, that’s not a personal attack.

  • I worked in another Australian office where the remotest slight on the trades & labour recruiter from management would result in him disappearing for the entire morning.  What was claimed to be last-minute and unscheduled client visits turned out to self-consoling cigarettes while strolling along the waterfront.

4. You can share your views without shutting down the room.

  • One Auckland office I worked in had a very senior IT Recruiter who spoke so loudly and forcefully to her clients and candidates, often in a condescending way, that everyone had to pretty well down tools and get off the phones until she had finished.  She was a top biller and as such the behaviour was tolerated by management.

5. You hear some juicy gossip about a co-worker and you run and tell … no one.

  • Where do I start with this one?  We in recruitment must be the worst gossips out there.  In many ways it is this that enables us to sniff out leads and introductions that others might not, but it’s a very fine line we tread when dealing with client and candidate confidentiality.

6. You’ve learned to listen more than you talk.

  • “You’ve got two ears and one mouth” is probably the best advice you can give a rookie recruiter.  The only problem is that they probably only got the chance to get into the recruitment industry after displaying their proficiency with gift of the gab.  In my line of work, with recruiters interviewing recruiters, I know the interview went poorly if it finishes in under 90 minutes…

7. When something goes wrong, you don’t throw everyone else under the bus.

  • Things frequently go wrong in the recruitment process, which is hardly surprising when you consider you’re working with two moving targets and not selling some inanimate object.  Recruiters are very good at blaming moving goalposts, changes to briefs, unethical competitors, under-handed clients, or lying candidates.  Often the truth is that you failed to cover off the counter offer threat, or just didn’t build a strong enough partnership with the client or candidate.

8. You bask in applause-for others.

  • I once worked in a firm where everyone had to get up and join in a “placement dance” when another consultant made a placement.  One recruiter outright refused to do this every time.  Oh hang on…that was me… I hated that stupid dance!

9. The highs aren’t too high, and the lows aren’t too low.

  • As already pointed out to me this week, recruitment is a “champagne and razor blades” industry.  Think about that.  It’s very true right?  Unless you’re one of those smart  recruiters working only on retained exclusive roles.  And that’s probably most of you…no?

10. You get that the jokes you heard from your basketball buddies aren’t gonna work at the office

  • Recruiters typically learn to be very good at adapting the pitch and tone of their language and humour to the different clients or candidates they might deal with.  They often forget to do the same in their actual back office.


Having written this, and dredged up all those memories and examples, I suppose I have to hold my own hand up and admit to occasional bouts of childishness.  But I like to think of it more as irreverence, a coping mechanism to handle the highs and lows of recruiting.  Plus I believe in just being myself and if that doesn’t work for you then hey, no worries, see you later.  It’s all a matter of degree and I know for one I’ll never stoop to the depths of one top biller in a Wellington office who by all accounts used to actually lie on the floor kicking and screaming to get her way if there were arguments over account or candidate ownership.

It’s funny but are you noticing a trend between top billing recruiters and bouts of extreme childishness?  Well I never.

Anyway, that’s your lot for this week.  I’m writing this ahead of last night’s recruitment networking “PowWow” because I’m off to the Coromandel for a long weekend.  I’m sure the Rice PowWow will be a very grown up affair, oh yes.

Have a good one.


Jonathan Rice

Director of New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice & Co, co-founder of freelance recruiter platform JOYN, and people-centric technology firm superHUMAN Software. Recruitment innovator, agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.